Caltrans needs to go on a staffing diet

August 10, 2015

Senator John MoorlachOPINION By SENATOR JOHN MOORLACH

This year, the majority Democratic Party found new ways to spend the $6 billion to $9 billion in additional tax revenue, passing the largest state budget in California history.

Funding to fix our roads and bridges, however, was woefully inadequate.

Now the majority party has decided that California’s roads are a mess. The governor has called the Legislature into a special session, which has manufactured a sense of urgency. Statistics have been gathered; analyses have been performed; bills to address the problem have been put forward. What is the one common component? The majority wants more of your money to “fix” the situation.

In fact, the “transportation” special session appears to be an exercise designed to pressure legislators into supporting a tax hike on gasoline – even though Californians already pay the nation’s highest taxes.

Raising revenue is one option. However, cutting costs is a better one that should not be passed over. A great place to start is to review the agency charged with care and maintenance of your state’s transportation infrastructure – the California Department of Transportation.

In 2014, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office reported that Caltrans’ Capital Outlay Support program, which oversees improvement projects and has been very opaque in its manpower management responsibilities, was overstaffed by approximately 3,500 full-time equivalent positions, at a cost of nearly $500 million annually. That’s a half-billion tax dollars – for salaries, health care and pensions for extra staffing – that does nothing to improve our roads.

Caltrans must become a lean and efficient agency with staff focused on projects and outside consultants utilized when workloads increase. It is much easier to reduce outside contractors than it is to reduce staff. Yet, early retirements are in order, and streamlining must be proven long before taxpayers are asked to contribute more.

During these special legislative sessions bills can be introduced. Consequently, I introduced Senate Bill X1-9, the Responsible Contracting for Caltrans Act. It addresses the glaring flaws at Caltrans.

First, SBX1-9 would prohibit the use of temporary funding sources, such as loan repayments, bond funds and grant funds, to hire permanent staff.

Second, SBX1-9 would increase the share of contract employees in the Caltrans’ COS program by 5 percent annually, beginning in 2016, until a 50/50 ratio of state staff and contract employees is reached in 2023.

Controlling the hiring of permanent staff with limited-term funds and increasing the requirement to contract out are simple, no-nonsense approaches to reining in a department that has lacked forward vision. Who could be opposed to such common sense? You guessed it – the public employee unions – whose primary role is to increase their membership at any cost.

Does California have an infrastructure maintenance deficit? Absolutely. Reducing Caltrans’ bloated size before proposing that California families pay even higher taxes to fix our roads is the right thing to do.

State Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) is a nationally recognized budget, finance, and fiscal policy expert. Moorlach passed the C.P.A. exam in 1978, and completed his studies for the Certified Financial Planner designation in 1987, earned a Certificate in Public Finance from the University of Delaware, Division of Continuing Education in 1995, the Certificate of Achievement in Public Plan Policy (CAPPP) in Employee Pensions in 1999 and the Trustees Masters Program in 2003 through the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

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14 Comments

  1. AlanB says:

    I understand the popularity of tax cuts Mr. Moorlach but the fact is we need to put more money into repairing the roads and bridges and in particular upgrading the ITS (Intelligent transportation System) that gives us live traffic information that ties into our GPS saving millions in fuel and cutting the lost productivity of traffic jams in California. Most highway work is already awarded to contractors with a competitive bid process and has a fixed price and deadline set at the beginning. If you see workers standing around we’re not paying for that. One of the problems we have with the inefficiencies at Caltrans and other public as well as private organization is the temporary and out sourced help has little or no experience and ends up costing us more in the long run reinventing the wheel time and time again pardon the pun. I’m not a Democrat or Republican sir, I’m a Californian and I have three kids just getting out on the roads here, I don’t want them put in harm’s way so you can make you lobbyist cronies richer, I have been driving on our roads for almost 50 years and don’t need your political rhetoric screwing us up when we are trying to get somewhere thank you very much. We need more career oriented folks dedicated to our wonderful highway system in California, that means long term full time employees. By The way keep your cotton picken hands off our Transportation funds, its off limits to you folks in Sacramento for a reason, you always pick pocket it when you can and were tired of it..

    (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
  2. SLOBIRD says:

    Didn’t we just get a 5 cent reduction in the State Gas Tax July 1st. Now they want to up it probably 10 cent… It is called politics!!! I heard we are also going to have a Cap and Trade Fee and a hike in care registration. Jeez! Glad I am registered in Oregon. Someone else I know just brought a car in Oregon, got a Oregon license, and registered it at his brother’s. Works for me!

    (-1) 1 Total Votes - 0 up - 1 down
  3. Jorge Estrada says:

    Caltran’s Staff Infection has not created mess on California roads, this infection has created a dangerous road system because of their self determined interest in paychecks, which includes paying lawyers instead of funding needed Highway improvements. The most obvious local example is the Highway between Santa Margarita and San Luis Obispo. This Expressway is a Freeway in application but is called an Expressway because it does not meet Freeway standards. You got it, just call it something else and the danger goes away or is it liability because of an in process status? Caltrans knows very well of this disaster zone and to add insult to injury this is an escape route should Diablo sound their panic horns to flee SLO. This ridiculousness set aside, accountability needs to be increased and we can start by not letting Caltrans retirement occur before 62, a severe early out penalty, and disability only if you are disabled with lifetime verification. You get caught (ratted out), you forfeit all disability compensation.

    (6) 14 Total Votes - 10 up - 4 down
  4. Ben Daho says:

    I bet all of you have really rough, worn, broken hands from your career of hard labor. I’ve worked physical jobs in the past. One was on a shovel. I was making sure the equipment operator wasn’t destroying anything in his path. To a person that sits behind someone else’s desk, logged on to someone else’s computer, using their software, their internet, there sure seems to be a lot of hard working “those people should” “those other people” “they oughta” . Look at yourselves. “Outsource the jobs” usually means “my sisters having a baby and her husband has been out of work for a few years, can you help a guy out? Over budget? Well, they’ll be plenty of time to look into that AFTER the election”

    (-1) 19 Total Votes - 9 up - 10 down
  5. Rawhide says:

    Usually when Cal Trans does a job, any job, it has to be redone within that same calendar year by an independent contractor to fix the mess they made.

    8:00 A.M. Cal Trans yard
    9:00 at job site;
    set up equipment
    10:00 start work
    12:00 p.m. shut down for 1 hour lunch
    1:00 start work
    3:30 shut down
    get ready to drive back to yard
    5:00 back at Cal Tran’s yard.

    Total Work done: 4-1/2 hour’s maybe…does not take in time standing around leaning on shovels.

    P.S. They sure know how to “slaughter” the trees alongside the highways. They call it right-away brush clearance.
    Check hwy. 41 from Morro Bay to Yosemite…!

    (8) 28 Total Votes - 18 up - 10 down
    • SLOBIRD says:

      Forget to mention the AM and PM breaks!

      (-1) 3 Total Votes - 1 up - 2 down
  6. r0y says:

    Three boys were sitting on a curb recently, when one of them bragged, “My daddy is fast! He drives race cars for a living!”

    Another said, “That’s nothing, my daddy is super-fast – he flies jets for the Air Force!”

    The third boy chimed in, “Oh yeah? My daddy works for CalTrans, and he is so fast, he gets off at 5, but is home by 4!”

    (31) 47 Total Votes - 39 up - 8 down
    • kayaknut says:

      More likely “home by 3” plus he gets 4 hrs of Overtime at double time, isn’t free taxpayer money wonderful.

      (-2) 4 Total Votes - 1 up - 3 down
  7. justbeware says:

    There isn’t a government entity in existence that couldn’t survive after a minimum of ten layers of bureaucracy were peeled off and tossed away.

    (35) 47 Total Votes - 41 up - 6 down
  8. tomsquawk says:

    also, get rid of the guy that just leans on his shovel all day

    (26) 42 Total Votes - 34 up - 8 down
    • OnTheOtherHand says:

      That guy is usually leaning on the shovel because someone up the chain of command can’t make timely and intelligent decisions. Yeah, there are some lazy, entitled low-end workers but they are not as common as the mythology would have you believe.

      (17) 29 Total Votes - 23 up - 6 down
      • kayaknut says:

        Actually the reason is as much about upper management as it is about the unions. They require a certain number of workers for each job regardless of exactly how many it would take to do a certain job. Thus a few workers just go to a work site and have nothing really to do but hold up a shovel.

        (3) 13 Total Votes - 8 up - 5 down
    • Pelican1 says:

      I have better idea. RUBBER HANDLED SHOVELS! Think of it….nothing to lean on. Productivity would increase 100%

      (1) 13 Total Votes - 7 up - 6 down
    • r0y says:

      You think our shovel-leaners are bad… when the China Road and Bridge Corporation was building one of the main roads (Ring Road) in downtown Addis Abbeba, Ethiopia back in the late 90’s / early 2000’s, the local workers would drag out their job by leaning on them all day (no exaggeration). In Ethiopia as a local, and when you have a job to build something, it might be the last job you have (for a while), so workers extend it as long as possible, hence the excessive shovel-leaning when the Chinese overseers were not present.

      This is very contradictory to Chinese work practices, so the shovels’ handles were cut in half! Was it worth the loss of the leverage? I do not know, but I do know it did improve the speed of the road’s construction.

      (0) 6 Total Votes - 3 up - 3 down

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